SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How Are SAT Subject Tests Scored?

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Posted by Ellen McCammon | Aug 3, 2021 8:00:00 PM

SAT Subject Tests

 

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In the past, you may have been asked to take an SAT Subject Test in a particular subject as part of the college admissions process. These tests covered single subjects, like World History or Physics, consisted of 50 to 90 questions, and were graded on a scale of 200-800.

International students will still be able to take SAT Subject Tests through June 2021. We'll explain why, and we'll also provide scoring information for international students who'll be taking the exam. We'll wrap things up with some tips for deciding when and whether you should send your SAT Subject Test scores to colleges.

However, after June 2021, SAT Subject Tests will no longer be offered for students in the U.S. and international students. We'll go over what these changes mean for U.S. students and international students below.

There's a lot to cover, so let's get started!

 

No More SAT Subject Tests for US Students

In January 2021, the College Board announced that, effective immediately, no further SAT Subject Tests will be offered in the United States (and that SAT Subject Tests will only be offered internationally through June 2021). While anyone who signed up for the May and June SAT Subject Tests in the US will be refunded, many students are understandably confused about why this announcement happened midyear and what this means for college applications going forward.

Read more about the details of what the end of SAT Subject Tests means for you and your college apps here.

 

Why Are SAT Subject Tests Discontinued for US Students?

Over the past year, the College Board has taken a hard look at the demands placed upon students and how SAT tests can best be used to help students demonstrate their academic skills and potential. Ultimately, the College Board has determined that discontinuing the SAT Subject Tests will alleviate some of the pressure placed on college applicants and help streamline the college application process.

In the past, students have used their SAT Subject Test scores to show colleges that they have advanced skills in specific subject areas, like Math and English. But the truth is that there are other, more accessible ways to demonstrate excellence in individual subject areas. Because AP exams can fulfill that need for US students, SAT Subject Tests aren’t really necessary!

For most students, the discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests is a good thing. Instead of preparing for exams that many colleges and universities don’t place much weight on (or even accept anymore, in many cases), you can focus on making other aspects of your college applications, like your personal essays, absolutely stellar.

 

How Will Subject Tests Work for International Students?

As we mentioned, international students still have the opportunity to take SAT Subject Tests through June 2021. But why do international students get to take 2021 Subject Tests while US students don’t?

According to the College Board, SAT Subject Tests serve a wider range of purposes for international students. Subject tests allow international students to qualify for advanced placement at universities and give them needed credentials for college-level study in some countries. For these reasons, international students have been given the chance to take SAT Subject Tests through June 2021.

However, after June 2021, SAT Subject Tests will no longer be offered to international students either. Over the next year, both US and international students will need to pursue other means of demonstrating their subject area proficiency to colleges and universities.

 

Can I Still Send My Subject Test Scores to Colleges?

Though SAT Subject Tests are no longer being offered, youcan still have your SAT Subject Test scores sent to schools you’re applying to. This applies to Subject Tests taken in past years as well.

Keep in mind that colleges will decide whether and how to consider students’ Subject Test scores. This means that while you can still have your scores sent to colleges, there’s no guarantee that they will accept them or take them into account in the admissions process.

If you want to know how a specific school is handling Subject Test scores, check their website for up-to-date information about Subject Test scoring policies.

Because many students will choose to send past SAT Subject Test scores to colleges and universities, we’ll cover all the details about how SAT Subject Tests are scored in the remaining sections of this article!

 

How Is Your Raw SAT Subject Score Calculated?

Your raw score is your point total on the SAT Subject Test before it's been converted to your final score on the 200-800 point scale. So if there are 60 questions, the highest raw score you could get would be 60.

However, unlike with the regular SAT, your raw score isn't based only on how many questions you get right but also on how many questions you get wrong. This so-called "guessing penalty," which was designed to discourage random guessing, means that for every question you get wrong, a fraction of a point will be deducted from your raw point total for questions you've answered correctly.

The point deduction for answering a given question incorrectly is based on the number of answer choices for the question:

  • -1/4 point per incorrect five-choice question
  • -1/3 point per incorrect four-choice question
  • -1/2 point per incorrect three-choice question
  • 0 points per question left unanswered

Most questions on SAT Subject Tests are five-choice questions, so the guessing penalty is usually just a quarter-point.

Subject Test raw scores are rounded to the nearest whole point. In other words, half-points and above round up, while anything below a half-point rounds down. So a 33.25 would round down to 33, whereas a 33.5 would round up to 34.

Your raw score, then, can be expressed as follows:

# of answers right − (# of answers wrong x guessing penalty) =

raw score (rounded to nearest whole number)

If, on a 60-question Subject Test such as Literature, you get 45 questions right, get five wrong, and leave 10 blank, your raw score would be as follows:

  • 45 answered correctly − (5 answered incorrectly x 0.25 guessing penalty) =
  • 45 − 1.25 = 43.75
  • 43.75 rounded to the nearest whole number = 44
  • Raw score = 44 points

To recap: SAT Subject Test scoring is based on both how many questions you get right and how many you get wrong. Once that number is established, though, how does the College Board come up with your 200-800 point score? Read on to find out!

 

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The College Board: a pictorial representation.

 

How Your Final SAT Subject Test Score Is Calculated

If you've ever taken practice tests using The Official Study Guide to ALL SAT Subject Tests, you might have noticed that there is a chart for converting your raw score on a practice test to a scaled score after each practice exam.

These charts can give you a loose ballpark as to how a certain raw score on one test might convert to a scaled score from 200 to 800, but they're not exact. There is no consistent formula you can use to convert a raw SAT Subject Test score to a scaled score.

This is because the College Board equates scaled scores to make it so that scores are comparable between different administrations of the test. Equating accounts for small difficulty variations and minor differences in the skill levels of test takers on different test dates.

Basically, your individual score won't suffer if the people who took the Subject Test with you were unusually strong in that subject. (On the flip side, your score won't be better, either, if the people who sat with you were unusually weak in the subject.)

In other words, a 650 from the Math II test you took in November will reflect the same level of mastery as Anya's 650 score on the Math II test the next May. Even if your test administration was full of state math-team champions and hers had mostly people who failed geometry, neither of these factors will influence your final scaled scores!

I do not, unfortunately, know the witchcraft (and by witchcraft, I mean statistics) through which the equating process occurs. Nor could I learn, unless I had access to lots of secret College Board test data.

What I do have is some advice on how to approach the relationship between raw scores and scaled scores.

 

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The Magic Castle where equating takes place.

 

Does your school report your GPA as weighted or unweighted? What would your GPA be, considered on a 4.0, 5.0, or 6.0 scale? Use our tool to calculate your unweighted and weighted GPA to figure out how you stack up against other college applicants. You'll also get our proprietary college core GPA calculation and advice on where to improve to be a better college applicant.

Get GPA Conversion Tool

 

How To Decide if You Should Send Your Subject Test Scores to Colleges

Whether you should send your SAT Subject Test scores to colleges you’re applying to ultimately depends on what scores the schools you're applying to are looking for.

To help you decide whether to send your scores, look up the average or recommended SAT Subject Test scores of admitted applicants for each of your schools. For example, if you're applying to the Ivy League, this guide goes over the scores you should aim for on each Subject Test (depending on your major). You can also look up SAT score info on schools' official websites or contact admissions offices and ask them if the scores you achieved would be competitive at their school.

Note that, due to the discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests, most schools will not recommend or require them for admission. That said, if you're applying to a highly selective school and have taken an SAT Subject Test, you should still try to submit your scores since a high score can, in some cases, greatly boost your chances of admission. This is especially important if you’re an international applicant who took the final SAT Subject Tests in summer 2021!

If you can't find exact score data for a school, it’s okay to make an educated guess about the competitiveness of your Subject Test scores. In the past, competitive schools generally want to see SAT Subject Test scores in at least the 700s—sometimes 750+.

In the example above, a perfect 800 would give you your best shot at getting into these top-tier schools. Even if you didn’t get a perfect 800, it’s still important to search for accurate score information for the schools you’re applying to and ensure that submitting your scores will add something of value to your application as a whole. If your Subject Test scores are comparable to those of past applicants at a school, there’s a good chance submitting yours will enhance your profile as an applicant!

If you’re thinking about sending your SAT Subject Test scores to colleges, keep reading--we’ll give you a little more information about how to determine whether submitting your scores will be worth your time!

 

body_raw_veggies.jpgRaw veggies are just like raw scores—only greener.

 

How Do I Know if My Subject Test Scores Are Competitive?

One way to decide if your scores line up with those of other college applicants is by checking out the percentiles for all SAT Subject Tests. These tell you what percentile rank each scaled score corresponds to. While you can’t necessarily compare your scores from the Subject Test you took to the scores of students who took a different version of that Subject Test, looking at these percentiles will still help you get an idea of what scores are considered top notch from year to year.

Here's a brief overview of the current percentiles for all SAT Subject Tests:

Score Lit US Hist W Hist Math I Math II
800 99 97 94 99 76
750 90 83 81 91 55
700 73 63 66 71 41
650 54 44 50 54 27
600 37 27 35 39 15
550 24 16 21 26 7
500 15 9 12 16 3
450 9 4 6 9 1
400 4 2 3 4 1-
350 1 1- 1- 1 1-
300 1- 1- 1- 1-
250 1-

 

 

Score BioE BioM Chem Phy
800 97 94 89 85
750 87 77 70 67
700 70 56 51 50
650 52 38 36 34
600 34 24 23 22
550 20 14 13 14
500 12 8 7 8
450 7 5 3 3
400 4 3 1 1
350 2 1 1- 1-
300 1- 1- 1-
250 1- 1-

 

Language — Listening
Score CH FR GE JA KO SP
800 59 78 94 86 64 96
750 23 62 81 52 22 73
700 13 47 65 35 12 53
650 8 33 50 23 7 38
600 4 23 39 16 4 24
550 3 15 28 10 2 15
500 1 10 17 6 1 9
450 1- 4 10 3 1 5
400 1- 2 5 1 1- 2
350 1- 2 1- 1
300 1- 1- 1- 1-
250 1-

 

 

Languages — Reading
Score FR GE MH IT LA SP
800 90 92 87 91 94 93
750 78 76 72 66 81 77
700 66 62 61 47 66 61
650 54 39 53 33 52 45
600 42 38 45 23 39 31
550 30 28 37 15 27 20
500 19 19 25 10 15 12
450 10 13 16 6 5 6
400 4 7 7 4 1 2
350 1- 3 3 2 1- 1
300 1- 1- 1 1-
250 1- 1-

 

A final option for determining how your scores stand up is to look at the average scores for each SAT Subject Test. Here's an overview of the current averages for each test:

SAT Subject Test Average Score
Literature 616
US History 647
World History 634
Math Level I 614
Math Level II 703
Ecological Biology 627
Molecular Biology 659
Chemistry 672
Physics 675
Chinese with Listening 760
French with Listening 679
German with Listening 622
Japanese with Listening 703
Korean with Listening 759
Spanish with Listening 662
French 622
German 625
Modern Hebrew 616
Italian 670
Latin 629
Spanish 645

Source: The College Board

A high average score doesn't necessarily mean the test is easy, though—it could also mean that the students who take it tend to have a high skill level in the subject. Moreover, on tests with high averages, it can be hard to differentiate yourself from the pack, so that's something else to keep in mind.

 

 

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Stand out like the ballerina in the front. Wait, Elsa, is that you?

 

Does your school report your GPA as weighted or unweighted? What would your GPA be, considered on a 4.0, 5.0, or 6.0 scale? Use our tool to calculate your unweighted and weighted GPA to figure out how you stack up against other college applicants. You'll also get our proprietary college core GPA calculation and advice on where to improve to be a better college applicant.

Get GPA Conversion Tool

 

 

Key Takeaways: SAT Subject Tests Scoring

SAT Subject Test scoring is a little unusual because your score doesn't just account for how many questions you answered correctly—it also includes deductions for questions you answered incorrectly.

Your raw score is calculated by subtracting the penalty for each question you got wrong from the points of questions you answered correctly, rounded to the nearest whole number.

The College Board then converts your raw score to a scaled score via a process called equating so that scores from different administrations of the test are comparable with each other.

While you won’t need to apply this information to any future SAT Subject Tests since they are being discontinued, all of this information about Subject Test scoring can help you make an informed decision about submitting your scores with your college applications. Whatever you decide, remember that colleges evaluate you holistically--you’re much, much more than your SAT Subject Test scores as a college applicant!

You can do it, you beautiful SAT butterfly!

 

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The rarely seen SAT butterfly.

 

What's Next?

How many SAT Subject Tests should you take, anyway? Read our guide to get expert advice on what the best number of tests is for you. In addition, see which SAT Subject Tests will be easiest for you.

Wondering which colleges require you to send SAT Subject Test scores? See our complete list.

Taking the regular SAT, too? Be sure to review our in-depth guide to the SAT format.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)

 

These recommendations are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links, PrepScholar may receive a commission.

 

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Ellen McCammon
About the Author

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.



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